~~~

… “Young lady?”

Alysa’s eyes shot open. She turned her groggy head and saw the tall older man with the blond flat-top haircut standing four feet from her at the edge of the small hospital waiting room lounge.

Shit! Alysa pushed her heavy body up into the sitting position. At some point, she’d fallen asleep on one of the two couches.

Sergeant Hash, dressed in his old National Guard uniform, was leaning up against the wall, smiling at her from behind the coffee cup he sipped. And this time, he wore a side arm. “Looks like the both of you were in no shape to stand watch,” he said, nodding over at Tony who had fallen asleep in the sitting position on the other couch.

She looked over at Tony, stretched her leg out, and kicked the big man awake.

Aren’t we the pathetic ones, she thought. So much for the plan.

Tony came awake with a start and stared over at Alysa with blood shot eyes.

We’re both beyond exhausted, she thought, staring into Tony’s confused face. She nodded over his shoulder.

Tony turned, saw Hash saluting him with his coffee cup, and then said, “Fuck!”

“It’s alright,” the soldier said. “I get it. You’re watching over your unit… or at least, trying to. But you both look like shit and even good soldiers still need to sleep… eventually.”

Tony shook his head apologetically at Alysa who looked equally embarrassed, and then rose to his feet.

Alysa did the same.

Hash moved his free hand cautiously toward his gun holster. “Relax. I’m not here to stuff your heads back into sacks and escort you to the basement. But… I will need you both to get moving, wake your friends, and come with me.”

“Come with you where?” Tony asked.

Hash took another sip of his coffee, looked at the cup, and then said, “It’s not this town I’ll miss… but the coffee… well, hell… I’ll miss that, I suppose. I’m tired of the ‘Apocalyptic Hospital Shit’ blend, but it’s been a real life saver.” He looked to them. “I imagine, all our days will be cut short here if what you’ve all shared with me about that large party of dead things hiding out at Mosquito Creek is true. So, against my better judgment, I’ve decided that the best thing I can do, is get you all the hell out of my town as fast as possible… so I can deal with the rest of what’s on my plate this morning.”

“You’re letting us go?” Alysa asked suspiciously.

“I figure it’s easier to do that, then having to keep stopping Thompson and the others from trying to kill you… and I need those misguided idiots back on watch. But we need to leave… immediately.”

Tony was scrambling. He looked to Alysa with a big old smile that clearly said, See, I told you.

She glared at him as if to say, We’ll see. She hesitated and asked, “How do we know you aren’t lying to us to get us outside? For all we know the Lunatics are waiting to jump us.”

Hash laughed and then looked at Tony. “She always this… trusting?”

“Always,” he said. “But she’s had our backs on more than one occasion.”

“I don’t doubt it,” he said. He turned back to the archer. “Truth is, young lady, you don’t know. But I’d like to think that I’ve treated you all hospitably… and I will be catching a considerable amount of shit for locking those boys up on account of all of you. So, if you could please hold off on all your suspicions and help me, help you, I’d appreciate it. We have a limited amount of time to get this done.”

Alysa looked to Tony. “Make the call.”

“Okay, we’ll trust you,” Tony told Hash. “I’ll just need one solid show of faith from you before we go.”

Hash rolled his eyes and sighed. “Here we go. What’s that?”

“Give me what’s left of that coffee and I’ll bear your children.”

The good sergeant gave him a strange look, unprepared for the joke, and then laughed.

Tony smiled.

Hash held out the cup, shaking his head. “It’s yours… but I’m sure this shit’s made me sterile by now, so let’s just forget that second part.”

Tony chuckled. Now both men were infected with laughter.

Alysa raised an eyebrow, staring back and forth between them. “Unbelievable.”

This just made them laugh harder.

~~~

After Tony and Alysa woke the others, Sergeant Hash led the tired and very confused prisoners down to the main floor of the hospital, explaining the plan on the way.

“I’ve got Gibbs, a good soldier, running interference for me long enough to get you and your people out of here,” Hash said to Tony. “Everyone else not in their racks will be spread out on the north, south and west ends of town, keeping them preoccupied. That leaves the east end open. Gibbs will be there to meet us at the bridge where you all came in. He’ll have your weapons with him and-”

“We can’t go back, Sergeant,” Tony said.

Hash stopped. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“We’ve already explained this. We’re looking for our friends, and those Lunatics have them.”

Hash ran a hand impatiently through his hair. “What are you trying to do here? Do you want to die? I’m trying to get you out of Lunatic territory… and you want to run right into the devil’s den? You have no idea what you’ve gotten yourselves into here.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Tony said. “We’re not giving up on our people. I’m sure you can understand that.”

Hash squared up to Tony, put his hands to his side, and said, “Look… I get it. But they’re dead. And if they’re not, then you better start praying they die soon. If the Lunatics got ‘em, then that’s it! End of story! You’re not going to do anything but get the rest of your people killed… or much worse.”

Tony refused to back down. “We’re going to find our friends… with or without your help.”

Hash could tell by the big man’s angry glare that this stone would not budge. He laughed and shook his head. “You’d make a good soldier, Tony. You’ve just enough stubbornness mixed with a lack of good common sense to stare down the devil himself to win your war… but I’m telling you… that war is a lost cause. Your friends… well… there’s no coming back from where they are.” He turned away with a haunted look in his eyes.

“We have to try,” Wendy chimed in.

Hash looked at the young woman.

Wendy continued. “We’ve lost so much just getting this far. So many of our friends are dead. This world is an awful place, but if it’s done anything, it’s shown us how valuable the ones we care about are… and if we give up on them, we might us well lie down and let the dead have at us.”

The others looked to Wendy and nodded.

Hash could clearly see there was no stopping them. He shook his head and said, “I’m encouraged by this strength you all possess together. I felt that once, long ago, but now… the world has changed. Heroism was the first thing to die off… believe me… I’ve seen it. Now, we do what we must to keep on breathing. Survival is our new god, and she’s a mean-spirited bitch!”

Nine laughed. “Trust us, Sergeant. We know this all too well. That’s why we were striving to build something better than that… but we need to do it together. We’re missing people, we must get them back, or die trying. Call that foolish or suicidal, but that’s who we are.”

Hash was getting frustrated. He started them moving again. “Well, do what you want after you’re out of my damn town! But we are heading for that bridge!”

They approached the front doors of the hospital. The morning light shining in through the glass double doors never looked more inviting to the others.

Hash stopped them immediately.

“What wrong?” Diane asked.

Hash motioned for them to drop down ten feet before the door. He whispered, “Something feels… off.”

Mark looked around nervously. “Are we-”

Hash shushed him, placing his pointer finger over the young man’s mouth. “Quiet,” he hissed.

“He’s right,” Alysa whispered, stepping back into the closest shadow. “The silence is forced.”

The good sergeant immediately drew his handgun and stared intently toward the front doors.

A moment later, a head quickly appeared, peeking around the outside corner of the left door, and then disappeared.

“Shit,” hash hissed. “They’re loose.”

“Who’s loose?” Tony asked.

Hash closed his eyes and shook his head. “Thompson,” he whispered. “The rest of those fucking idiots must have let him out. Probably caught wind that Gibbs was up to something. That kid’s a good soldier… but a horrible actor.”

“What’s our next move, Sergeant?” Tony asked.

“We wait,” he said. “They’re obviously hoping to catch us outside… out in the open. They probably have a sniper aimed at the front.”

“Are you saying that your own men are trying to kill you?” Matt asked.

“That all depends on what bullshit Thompson fed them this time. That man—I should have put that dog down—has been gunning for an opportunity to take over. He thinks more like those damn Lunatics than a real man. And those fuckers are cold as ice. Last night, I gave him his opportunity. I knew it wouldn’t sit well with the others, locking them up… but I didn’t think they’d take it this far.”

“You’re in danger now, Sergeant,” Tony said. “If we can get out of this mess, you need to come with us.”

Hash gave him a strange look and nodded. “I appreciate that… but… like you, I have at least one man out there who’s still loyal. And I won’t leave him to these dogs.”

“Gibbs?” Diane asked.

Hash nodded.

“Isn’t he at the bridge?” Wendy chimed in.

“Hey, Sergeant!” a voice shouted from outside.

It was Thompson.

“C’mon, Sarge, let’s not do this the hard way! This cat-and-mouse shit’s going to get old fast. Just come on out, bring the prisoners with you, and we’ll talk about this… situation.”

Hash frowned. “Most of them have about as much morals as the rest of you any damn sense, and Thompson’s void of even that much. But what they do have are guns… and they’re really efficient at using them.”

“How many?” Alysa asked.

Hash ran a hand through his hair. “Assuming he wasn’t foolish enough to leave the barricades undefended, that would mean leaving four men out… gives him nine total.”

“Nine armed men… soldiers… this should be easy,” Mark said sarcastically. “Let me go grab a sharp cotton swab from the nurse’s station, and I’ll be good to go.”

“We have to draw them inside,” Alysa advised. “That’s our only chance… and they know it.”

“Agreed, young lady,” Hash said.

“Are there any weapons in here?” Diane asked.

Hash smiled and raised his handgun.

“We’re fucked,” Matt concluded.

“Don’t count us out yet,” Hash said. “I haven’t maintained my leadership with these goons by closing the eyes in the back of my head. I keep a couple of automatic rifles stashed above the ceiling tiles in my quarters. As it turns out, those rifles were never accounted for. We’ll have to make it back up to the second floor to get them.”

“Any other exits?” Tony asked. “Or can we assume they’re being watched?”

“Only two that are still accessible, but they’ll be expecting that,” he said. “No, Thompson knows me enough to know how this will play out. They’ll have to come inside, now that I know what they’re up to.”

“So, two exits with at least one man watching each of those, correct?” Alysa asked.

“That’s a fair assessment,” Hash said.

“Then he’s down to seven out front,” Nine said with a smile. He looked to Tony. “That’s a good number… in our favor.”

Alysa raised an eyebrow at the strange young man.

Tony shook his head. “One of these days you’re going to have to explain that to me.”

“This isn’t a numbers game. They still clearly have the firepower advantage,” Hash said.

“Look, Sarge.” Thompson again. “Let’s not do this. Just come out and I’ll forgive our little misunderstanding from last night. In fact, just let me have the prisoners and I’ll make sure you’re treated well. I just want those troublemakers, Sarge! They’re the reason we’re in this mess!”

“He wants to finish what he started,” Tony said, staring at Hash.

Hash nodded. “Yeah… and the sooner the better. He’ll want some of you to hand over to the Lunatics, the little ass-kisser that he is, but the rest of you… he’ll make examples of… and save me for last.”

“What kind of monsters have you been associating with?” Diane accused.

Hash glared at her. “Haven’t you heard? Monsters rule this world now,” he said bitterly. “And judging by your own afflictions, I’d say you have a sober understanding of that.”

Diane looked away.

“We should move,” Alysa said. “Get those weapons, and the ones we made earlier, and wait for the enemy’s patience to work against them.”

Hash looked to the archer and then to Tony. “‘Weapons you made earlier’?”

“Yeah,” Tony said sheepishly. “Believe it or not, we were hypothetically considering taking you hostage earlier… but that was before you shared your coffee.” He added a wink.

Hash shook his head with a smile. “So much for winning you all over with my hospitality. But the young lady is correct. Thompson will tire of this and come for us. We’ll need to be ready. My only concern is whether Thompson’s already found-”

“Alright, Sarge!” Thompson yelled. “I’m done being nice. So, here’s how this is going to happen. You come out right fucking now, with all those prisoners, or I will put my gun to Private Gibbs head and execute him for treason. You have five minutes.”

Hash’s shoulders slumped. “I was afraid of that.”

Tony took a deep breath. “Don’t worry, Sergeant. We won’t let it come to that.”

Everyone, including Hash gave him a puzzled look.

“Tell Thompson that you’ll hand me over in exchange for your man’s life. I’m the leader. He’ll accept that. It’ll buy us some time.”

“Fuck that!” Diane said. “No offense, but we’re not giving up Tony for one of the men responsible for us being here. I don’t care whose side Gibbs is on!”

The others, except for Alysa who remained quiet, were equally adamant against this.

Hash was about to protest.

“There’s another way,” Alysa chimed in.

She had their attention.

“Give Thompson someone he really wants,” she continued. “Give him me.”

“Absolutely not!” Tony said.

“But you haven’t heard my plan yet,” she added, a devious little smile appearing on her face.

~~~

Next Episode 42-11

Previous Episode 42-9

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 42-10: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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